The Universal Notebook: The embarrassment in the Blaine House

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Gov. Paul LePage’s administration is off to an inauspicious beginning. He made news prior to his inauguration by promising to tell the president of the United States to “go to hell” and by threatening to punch a reporter.

Since taking office, LePage has made news by hiring his own daughter, failing to invite the state poet laureate to his inauguration, issuing an order to check the immigration status of anyone seeking state aid, placing a gag order on department heads, and most recently of course, by declining to attend Martin Luther King Jr. Day festivities and telling the NAACP to “kiss my butt.”

Let’s face it, folks, we have an oaf in the Blaine House. Someone needs to place a gag order on the governor before he strikes again. Go to hell? Kiss my butt? What’s next, the F-bomb?

In a state accustomed to class acts such as Margaret Chase Smith, Ed Muskie, Bill Cohen, George Mitchell, Angus King, John Baldacci, Susan Collins, John McKernan, and Olympia Snowe, LePage is a national embarrassment. His boorish, belligerent manner projects the ugly backside of Maine.

The governor’s communications director, Dan Demerrit, winced the instant LePage blurted out his insult to the NAACP. Later Demerrit attributed his boss’s words to “a directness about him that a lot of people find appealing.” Appealing? LePage’s surliness has all the direct appeal of passing gas in a crowded room. If Demerrit is doing his job, he will find someone LePage respects (if such a person exists) to take him to the woodshed and teach him some manners.

LePage’s lame excuse for blowing off Martin Luther King Jr. Day was that the NAACP is a “special interest” group. Talk about hypocrisy. When he made his nasty remark, LePage had just finished meeting with the Sanford Chamber of Commerce. The chamber is one of the largest and most powerful special interest groups in Maine and in the country. Then, a couple of days later, LePage was outside the Statehouse demonstrating against Roe v. Wade with another special interest group, opponents of a woman’s right to choose.

Sounds to me as though a “special interest” is anything Paul LePage doesn’t support, such as social justice and environmental protection. He’s prepared to turn himself inside out to accommodate the business community, so business isn’t a “special interest.” There are some ironies, however, in LePage’s all-business-all-the-time agenda.

First, while he complains about Maine’s lousy business climate, he also brags about how Marden’s expanded all over the state on his watch. So, apparently Maine is not such a bad place to do business after all.

Secondly, LePage trumpets job creation and spending cuts, but his first supplemental budget does neither. It adds more than $100 million to pay old Medicaid bills. Not a bad idea. He thinks he can pay these overdue hospital bills with increased state revenues. I just hope he remembers to thank President Obama for getting the economy back on track after the Bush train wreck, because bailouts and stimulus spending are the reasons LePage may have more money in the state kitty to pay bills.

If telling the president to “go to hell” and the state’s leading human rights organization to “kiss my butt” is the way Paul LePage conducts business, I have to believe there are a lot of Marden’s employees who were quite pleased to see Boss LePage leave. If such churlishness is his leadership style, we’ll all be better off when he’s gone.

Unless LePage can learn to keep a civil tongue in his head, our best hope may be that he will tire of the criticism, pull a Palin and quit after a couple of years.

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Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Yarmouth. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.